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Letta, Renzi have tension-thawing talks

Premier, PD leader have 'useful' meeting

10 January, 20:10
Letta, Renzi have tension-thawing talks (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, January 10 - Premier Enrico Letta and Matteo Renzi, the ambitious new leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), had a tension-thawing meeting at the prime minister's office in Rome on Friday.

Renzi has raised pressure on the left-right executive led by his PD colleague Letta after his landslide victory in last month's leadership primary for the biggest group in parliament, making repeated calls for the administration to accelerate with reforms.

The telegenic 38-year-old mayor of Florence, who has been compared to the young Tony Blair, presented a set of proposals to combat record levels of unemployment this week, his Jobs Act.

The move has been interpreted by some as part of an attempt by Renzi to dictate the agenda of the executive.

He has also stirred friction with the PD's main coalition partner, Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano's New Centre Right (NCD), with his suggestions for the policy pact that Letta is currently thrashing out with the parties supporting the government.

These include suggestions the pact should include measures to recognise gay unions and should soften Italy's tough immigration laws.

Alfano said Thursday that the NCD - a group of pro-government moderates who split from Silvio Berlusconi loyalists in November before the ex-premier's Forza Italia (FI) party abandoned the government - would quit the government if the PD insisted on gay unions being in the pact. Renzi, who is not a part of the government, also irked Alfano, thereby causing problems for Letta, by saying the PD would not let vetoes from the NCD stop it reaching an agreement for a new election law, if necessary by striking deals with opposition parties.

Italy needs a new election law after the dysfunctional old one, blamed for the inconclusive outcome of last February's election that made a coalition government necessary, was ruled as being invalid by the Constitutional Court.

The tension appeared to ease Friday, with government sources saying the meeting between the premier and the PD leader had been "useful and positive".

"Renzi and I are both determined to move forward," Letta told State broadcaster Rai later in the day.

"Applying ourselves is our priority. We have the roles and determination to do this.

"We have to build a contract for the coalition. The PD has elected a determined leader, with a great desire to make an important contribution". The pair talked for about 90 minutes on a variety of issues, but focused particularly on Renzi's Jobs Act plan and the outlook for the coalition government in 2014.

Renzi has made no secret of the fact that he one day wants to become premier.

He has stressed though that he wants to head the government after winning elections, not thanks to an agreement between parties like the one that saw Letta become premier.

Letta, meanwhile, told representatives of the small Centro Democratico party on Friday that he intends to present the policy pact for this year in parliament by the end of the month.

The aim is to avoid the instability that has dogged Letta's government for much of the time since it was sworn in in April.

Based on an unnatural alliance between the PD and Berlusconi's now defunct centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party, it veered from one crisis to another for much of last year.

Berlusconi's party, which he has revamped under its former name Forza Italia, pulled its support for the government after the PD supported the drive to have the media magnate ejected from parliament following the supreme court's decision to uphold a tax-fraud conviction against him.

Letta has said his government is now in a stronger position, even though it has a smaller majority in parliament.

But he admitted Friday that his government has struggled over the last five months dues to a series of "continuous earthquakes".

The premier had previously played down talk that Renzi's activism was a threat, saying it was an incentive for it to "move up a gear". On Friday Letta said he would discuss with the parties whether to have a cabinet reshuffle to reflect the changing political equilibrium after Renzi's primary victory over the next 10 days.

And he stressed that the PD should try to find an agreement with the NCD on the new election law before taking talks too far with the opposition parties.

Letta's government has a long list of problems that urgently need to be addressed.

It is aiming to boost the Italian economy after two years of recession and combat unemployment that has reached record levels of 12.7%, with over four in 10 under-25s out of work.

The executive also wants to push through reforms to cut the cost of Italy's political machinery and make the country easier to govern.

In addition to a new election law, the government also wants to reduce the number of parliamentarians and curtail the Senate's law-making powers to make it easier to get legislation through parliament, among other things.

Letta's government also has to prepare for Italy's duty presidency of the European Union in the second half of this year.

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